Merrill Field, Anchorage, Alaska, the site of history … today … when a FedEx Boeing aircraft, a giant bird of white, blue and orange, was the first-ever 727 to land at the historic airstrip..
I'd read about it in the newspaper, about the request to land the aircraft at Merrill which has an aircraft weight limitation of 12,500 pounds or less. However, this was a special occasion. FedEx donated an aircraft to the University of Alaska – Anchorage, for the university's Aviation Technology Center (located at Merrill) so the students can use it for educational purposes. The waiver was approved. So I gathered up a friend, and off we went to witness the event.
|Flounder and me in wait mode.|
The FedEx 727 left Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport for its short flight and an ETA of 2 p.m. The crowds were unbelievable, with vehicles and people packed around the landing strip, here, there and everywhere. They stood on buildings, on the beds of pickup trucks and the tops of their vehicles.
|Coming around ... east, south, west.|
The plane was sighted, and then began a long, lazy loop toward the mountains, a turn to the south and then the west, and on it came, big, bold and incredibly beautiful. It floated on the air, heading toward the runway, from the east to the west.
The bird circled, and made the apparent same flight path … a sighting, the turning to the east, to the south, to the west, the lazy way about it as it made another pass over … it didn't mattter that I'd seen it only a few minutes before. It was totally thrilling. And then it was gone. This next time was going to be the real thing, the real deal … a landing and the last flight for this FedEx bird that had been in service since February 1979.
The 727 came around for the third time, but this was different. Hundreds, thousands of eyes were focused on the plane coming toward the end of the runway. It settled in for the landing, it floated onto the runway, and voila! The 727 landed effortlessly on the 4,000-foot-long east-west runway. Noise, reverse thrust, whatever it is they do … it was done. I'd almost swear that bird stopped in as little space as the 150s I used to fly out of this very same airport. Okay, maybe not. But the stopping power and the expertise of the pilots in getting the plane stopped was nothing short of major impressive. The crowd cheered, photos were snapping faster than fingers could fly, and the plane taxied to a stop. What a thrill for everyone that turned out to watch this historic landing.
|On the ground.|
|A tow and a parking spot near the Aviation Technology Center.|